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Portland, Oregon: Two Months Later
"Remember to look for cars parked in the shadows of columns or trees," Eleisha said, glancing around the Lloyd Center parking lot.
"I know," Rose answeredrather shortly. "But I fed only a week ago. I don't see why we keep going back out so soon."
Eleisha looked away and didn't answer, as they should not be having a chat about feeding practices in the open.
They stood on the sidewalk near a theater complex with a warm night breeze blowing past, both of them appearing to be typical Portland citizens. Eleisha looked about seventeen, dressed in jeans and a tank top, her dark blond hair in a loose braid.
Rose de Spenser looked about thirty, an elegant lady, tall and slender in a linen dress. Though her face was smooth, she had several streaks of white running through her long brown hair.
Yes, the two of them appeared quite normal.
But Eleisha was beginning to wonder whether these training sessions would ever get any easier.
"I can't see Philip," Rose said, looking across the street toward the nearest light-rail stop. "Is he still watching us?"
"Yes, he's watching."
And that was another thing. Due to recent encroaching dangers, Eleisha couldn't go hunting alonenot without a guardianas if she were a child instead of a two-hundred-year-old telepathic member of the undead. She gritted her teeth.
Things would improve.
They had to.
However, right now she faced the daunting task of teaching Rose to feed without killing. Eleisha had learned that vampires were latent telepathsthey could replace the memories of their victims, and in centuries past had always fed without killing.
She was determined to reinstate this practice.
"Okay, the movie's getting out," she said, watching people pour from the main theater doors. "Just let the crowd thin and then look for someone alone."
Watching the flow of human traffic, she was tempted to point out a few good prospects, but she wanted Rose to learn on her own. This drastic change of hunting methods hadn't been easy on any of them, as they'd all fallen into deeply set patterns decades ago, relying on the power of their gifts to draw victims away…; and then drain them and hide the bodies.
Eleisha knew that Rose was still struggling with this new way of hunting.
"There," Rose said softly, her brown eyes following a young man moving toward the far edge of the parking lot.
She had a tendency to choose men.
But Eleisha didn't care as long the potential victim was alone and moving toward a car in the shadows.
Without a word, she and Rose fell into step about ten feet behind him. A row of willow trees lined the edge of the lot, and Eleisha was beginning to think Rose had chosen well, until the young man took out his keys and pressed a button to unlock a green Toyota pickup.
Trucks weren't the best option.
But Rose didn't stop.
"Excuse me," she said, letting the power of her gift flow outward. "Could you assist us?"
Within a few nights of becoming undead, a specific element of their previous personality developed into an overwhelming aura that could be turned on and off at will. Rose's gift was an aura of wisdom. When she used her gift and spoke, her victims fell under a spell of the absolute sense and truth of her words.
The young man stopped and turned around. He was clean shaven and wearing a Mariners baseball cap.
"My friend and I have been out walking, and we must have taken a wrong turn," Rose went on. "We hoped you could direct us to the DoubleTree Hotel on Multnomah Street."
He stared at her, listening. Eleisha found this to be a poor opening on Rose's part, as she was asking for something instead of making a suggestion.
"Yeah," he said, still moving his eyes up and down Rose's face. "It's not farjust a few blocks."
"It's so dark out now," Rose said. "We would not be safe. It would be best if you drove us."
Oh, well, that's better, Eleisha thought. She'd been half tempted to turn on her own gift but changed her mind. The young man's expression shifted to concern, and Eleisha could see his mind working under the influence of Rose's suggestion. Of course it was too dark now. Of course the only wise choice was for him to drive them back to their hotel.
As if letting two strangers into his truck was the most natural thing in the world, he hurried over to the passenger door and opened it. "Here, I'll take you."
"I am Rose," she said, smiling.
"Jason," he said, holding the door open.
Eleisha shook her head slightly to clear it. The problem with hunting in teams was that they were not immune to each other's gifts, so when Rose spoke and let her aura of wisdom flow, Eleisha could be seduced by an absolute belief in Rose's words as well. She needed to keep sharp and focused.
Rose climbed in first, so that she would be in the middle, and Eleisha climbed in afterward, pressed up against the passenger-side door.
As Jason ran around the back of the truck, Rose whispered, "This is difficult! I'm not hungry yet."
"We can't wait until you're starving again," Eleisha whispered back, and then fell silent as Jason opened the driver's-side door.
This was an issue Rose had not been able to overcome. Since being turned in the early nineteenth century, she'd regretted killing so much that she always pushed herself to the very edge of starvation before leaving her house to go out and feed. So, while a part of her seemed to welcome Eleisha's training, another part found using her powers to hunt nearly impossible unless she was hungry to the point of weakness. But…; when she was that starved, she also had a tendency to lose control and drain blood too quickly.
Put him to sleep, Eleisha flashed telepathically. You know what to do.
Though she was skilled with her gift of wisdom, Rose's telepathic abilities were coming along more slowly. She was just beginning to master putting a victim into a deep sleep and holding him there.
The truck was covered by shadows and the parking lot was nearly empty. Jason reached over to put his key in the ignition, but Rose touched his hand.
"Wait," she said softly. "You're tired. You need to rest first."
He blinked slowly, looking at her face, and then he closed his eyes, his head lolling back against the seat.
The action was faster and smoother than Rose had managed in the past, so at least she was gaining better control.
She had the rest of the routine down fairly well. She simply lacked drive and motivation unless she was starving.
Lifting Jason's wrist to her mouth, she punctured his skin carefully with her teeth and began sucking in mouthfuls of his blood. Eleisha slipped inside Rose's mind, tasting the blood, seeing images of Jason's recent memories as Rose consumed some of his life force…; His father had cancer, his mother was a doctor; they lived in a sky blue house on the outskirts of the city; he'd come to the movies alone because of a stupid fight with his girlfriend, Patricia…;
Rose stopped feeding.
She connected the puncture holes on his wrist with her teeth and then slipped further inside Jason's unconscious mind, taking him back to the moment he'd left the theater and altering his memories. He'd walked to his truck alone, but just before reaching it, he'd slipped and fallen hard, cutting his wrist on a broken beer bottle. He'd climbed into the truck before realizing how badly he'd cut himself, and then he'd passed out.
Eleisha monitored all of this in Rose's mind.
"Good," she said quietly, opening the door to slip out. "Be sure to lock his door."
They would leave him asleep, locked inside his truck, but he would wake up soon, almost as soon as they left him. He had given up some of his life energy, and yet he would still live.
This was how Eleisha's predecessors had hunted for centuries, and this was how anyone she found, anyone she helped, was going to hunt.
Rose followed her back toward the light-rail stop.
"That was good," Eleisha said again. "I didn't have to help you at all."
"It's getting easier."
Philip? Eleisha flashed.
Philip Branté stepped from the dark trees behind the light-rail stop. He was so tall, Eleisha had to tilt back her head.
"Is baseball-cap boy still breathing?" he joked, his French accent blending the words together.
His skin was ivory, and his eyes were a shade of light amber. He wore his red-brown hair in long layers down to the top of his collarand he spent a small fortune on products. But even in the warm night, he wore a long Armani coat to cover the machete fastened to his belt.
"Still breathing," Eleisha answered. "We should move to a different part of the city so you can feed, too."
He'd taken her downtown a few nights before, so she didn't need to hunt again yet.
"No," he answered. "I'll see you and Rose back to the church and then go out by myself."
She frowned. They'd all made a pact not to go out at night alone.
Philip was the only one who ignored this agreement. He believed he could take care of himself.
She didn't argue with him, as she was well aware that he'd become very adept at putting victims to sleep and altering their memories on his own. He didn't need her training anymore.
Besides, her relationship to him was growing…...